For Sale

King of Hearts Ranch

$17,500,000 Wilsall, MT 3,669± Deeded Acres

Executive Summary

The King of Hearts Ranch is located at the base of the north end of the Bridger Mountains. The towering rocky peaks that dominate the skyline above the ranch are the most dramatic section of this mountain range which hosts the Bridger Bowl Ski Area located only a short 15 to 20-minute drive from the ranch. This makes King of Hearts one of the very few “real ranches” in America that is nearly “ski in ski out”. It is also an easy and beautiful 35-minute drive from Bozeman along the Bridger Mountains and through Bridger Canyon. Consisting of approximately 3,669 deeded acres of which over 300 are subject to irrigation. The irrigated acreage is estimated to support 325 animal units based upon full-sized cows and has the potential to put up around 700 tons of hay. The terrain is open foothill grazing interspersed with hay meadows that transitions into a series of extremely lush mountain pastures crossed by live streams and separated by timber and aspens as it rises to the base of the mountains. The upper sections lie within the national forest where a charming, rustic one-room cabin is tucked away on a mountain stream. Wildlife is prolific including deer, elk, moose, antelope and black bear with the ranch acting as a haven during the hunting season. Flathead Creek offers a good home trout stream with many world-class renowned fisheries within an easy drive. The improvement complex includes multiple steel barns and shops, an excellent corral system, an outdoor roping arena and two comfortable homes for employees. In the center of this complex lying along the creek is the new, tastefully rendered three-bedroom owner’s home and a two-bedroom guest house. All four homes vie with each other to claim the most dramatic view in the valley. It is a close call, but we actually prefer the owner’s home with its intimate setting along Flathead Creek surrounded by grassy paddocks for the owner’s horses. There is an additional modest home and a separate building with a commercial kitchen and game room. It is well known that the north end (or side) of Montana’s mountain ranges is where the moisture falls most heavily and consistently, and the grass and trees grow most prolifically. King of Hearts lies in such an area and does not disappoint. In summary, it is a dramatically beautiful operating mountain ranch with outstanding wildlife located within minutes of Montana’s most sought-after city.

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Just the Facts

  • Location – 35 minutes north of Bozeman and 15 from Bridger Bowl.
  • Acreage – 3,669± with 300± subject to irrigation.
  • Improvements – Exquisite owner’s home and guest house plus three additional homes and a full complement of operating facilities. 
  • Terrain – Rolling hills and mountain meadows set off by healthy groves of timber and aspens.
  • Views – Literally mind-blowing vistas of rugged peaks towering over the ranch. Ideal mix of open grasslands, mountain meadows, timber and aspens. 
  • Recreational amenities – Extensive with both big game and a modest trout fishery. Convenient to world-class nordic and alpine skiing as well as trout fishing of equal note.
  • Production – Honest balanced 325 AU mountain cattle ranch.

General Description

King of Hearts Ranch is approached on a graveled county road from the east. The road skirts a high hill on the right and attention is immediately drawn to towering peaks to the west that demarcate the north end of the Bridger Mountains. They are impressive to say the least. As one’s eyes drop to the immediate foreground you become aware of a series of post and rail fences that lead down into a lush valley with two comfortable homes nestled in the trees. A grouping of steel barns beyond the houses are clearly the operating center of the ranch. Looking beyond the barns to the mountains, the upper part of the ranch includes huge grassy meadows divided by groves of aspen and fir that mark the valleys. Two additional homes are tucked into the hillside on the right side of the road. Entering the post and rail lined driveway and proceeding past the homes to the ranch headquarters one becomes aware of the more open hills and valleys that form the lower part of the ranch below the headquarters. 

If one continues on the county road, it leaves the ranch and begins to deteriorate becoming a seasonal road as it heads toward Flathead Pass going through a corner of a separated parcel of the ranch that lies inside the national forest. A second county road branches off to the east and crosses the ranch essentially dividing the upper ranch from the lower ranch and providing easy access to the upper pastures. The upper pastures consist of some of the most beautiful land one can imagine. Huge timothy meadows lined with aspens and big fir trees literally draw one up to the base of the craggy peaks rising immediately above the ranch. Bubbling mountain streams cross this portion of the ranch and a lovely refurbished one-room cabin is perched along one of these streams beckoning one for an overnight retreat or, in season, a multiple day hunting expedition. 

Broker's Comments

Exceptional physical beauty, terrific wildlife, high productivity and extensive recreational amenities are the essential internal elements of King of Hearts Ranch. A prime location just over half an hour from Bozeman and minutes from Bridger Bowl is the primary external feature. The icing on the cake is a complete and totally appropriate set of improvements including a near perfect owner’s home and guest house. 

Learn about the locale

Location

King of Hearts Ranch is located 30 miles northeast of Bozeman adjacent to the Gallatin National Forest at the headwaters of the Shields River. It lies approximately 13 miles northwest of Wilsall and 40 miles north of Livingston. Commercial air service is available at Belgrade, a 45-minute drive, where Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport provides the most extensive air service in the State of Montana. Seasonal direct service to major airports throughout the United States is available from this major hub. Delta, United, Allegiant, Horizon and American all service this airport and there are multiple FBOs and private jet and helicopter charter services available as well. 

Locale

The Sedan area can only be categorized as a “sleeper.” It is not well known because ranches rarely change hands here. There one finds multiple small to medium sized ranches that have prospered in family hands for generations. It lies in a particularly lush pocket with good soils that have made it an exceptional ranching area. A rare quality that we hope will endure is that this is still a traditional old-time ranching area where neighbors share work, get together to help each other brand, and work cattle on horseback. This is increasingly rare in the more populated areas of Montana and not what one would expect so close to one of Montana’s most sought-after cities. 

Aesthetically it is unusually beautiful as the north end of the Bridger Mountains are made up of rugged rocky peaks that rise abruptly from the valley floor literally towering over these productive ranches. One can as easily look to the east where the Crazy Mountains form an equally dramatic but more distant viewshed. The nearest town of consequence is Wilsall which is large enough to support churches, bars, gas stations, schools, and eating establishments. This means that locals have a comfortable place to gather while always having the option of driving another 15 minutes into Bozeman or Livingston. 

As one drives over the small pass on the paved road towards Bozeman, the world changes and one enters an area known as Bridger Canyon which is a beautiful lush valley and home to the Bridger Bowl Ski Area as well as fairly extensive smaller tract developments associated with Bozeman. King of Hearts is a world away from this yet one can enjoy the benefits of an exceptional ski area that lies literally a 15-minute drive away from the ranch – not to mention the many amenities offered by Bozeman that lies a 30 to 40 minute-drive from the ranch depending on what part of town one wants to access.

Climate

The main headquarters sits at just over 5,800 feet in elevation and the ranch rises from there. We were able to capture some climate data related to Sedan which is a couple of hundred feet below the ranch but at least nearby. They are showing annual precipitation of 17 inches with around 79 inches of snow. Average summer highs top out at 82 degrees and winter lows at 14 degrees – Fahrenheit in all cases. The fact that the ranch is located just a short drive from what is arguably Montana’s finest local ski area would suggest that this is a ranch that gets good old-fashioned Montana winters that go along naturally with idyllic late springs, summers and early falls. They plan on calving mother cows in May and on utilizing 2 to 2.5 tons of hay to winter a medium sized cow. 

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Acreage (Deeded & Leased)

The ranch manager estimates that there are in excess of 300 acres that are subject to irrigation. Their current operation is more focused on maximizing profits from the livestock and they have opted to put up much of their hay on lands leased from ranches further down valley and they graze on most of the King of Hearts meadows. He estimates that they currently only irrigate about 100 acres and put up around 300 tons. Under current conditions, if they chose to put up hay rather than graze, they estimate that the ranch has the potential to put up 700 tons on a combination of dryland and irrigated meadows. (See General Operation for more details).

Deeded Acres: 3,669±

Total Acres: 3,669±

* All acreages are approximations.

Additional Information

CONSERVATION EASEMENTS

There are no conservation easements on the King of Hearts Ranch although development along the many miles of county road frontage would most certainly add considerably to the value of a conservation easement that precluded subdivision.


Improvements

The improvements on the King of Hearts Ranch are extensive, in good to excellent condition and totally appropriate for the current operation. They are briefly described as follows:

Owner’s Home:

Completed about eight years ago by Yellowstone Traditions, this comfortable three-bedroom home measures just over 4,900 square feet including the attached three-car heated garage and the covered porch areas. The main living area is estimated to be around 3,500 square feet. There is a good-sized entrance hall that gives access to the large great room with a cozy fireplace anchoring a comfortable living room, dining room and expansive kitchen. A side door leads to a covered porch with an outdoor stone fireplace. Even though the house is nestled into the trees along the creek it still commands big views of the Bridger Mountains from the master bedroom and the living room. The master is good-sized with an enormous closet area, a yoga room, large bathroom with walk-in shower and a comfortable separated TV room. The other two bedrooms, one of which is used as an office, are expansive and comfortable with full bathrooms. There is a thoughtfully designed mud/laundry room that one enters off the garage. Landscaping is extremely attractive causing the home to be welcoming. This is a genuine ranch house with none of the soaring ceilings and two-story stone fireplaces that one has come to expect. However, it has all the features that one needs in a modern home.

Guest House: 

Located a short walk and across the creek from the owner’s home, the guest house is a simple but very charming 1,300 square foot two bedroom house with a small kitchen, living room, dining room area and a bathroom for each bedroom. There is a detached two-car garage. This house features a lovely deck that overlooks a particularly appealing fishing hole on Flathead Creek.

Manager’s Hill House:

0n the road and overlooking the ranch with huge views of the Bridger Mountains, this one-story house with a full finished daylight basement includes a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment downstairs with a good-sized living room. There is also a one-car garage. The main floor upstairs has an extensive partially covered wrap around wooden deck. There is a large living room with fireplace, a dining area, and a kitchen with a sitting counter. There is also a master bedroom with bathroom and two additional bedrooms that share a bath. Electric heat and wood burning stoves provide heat. There is a large laundry room and office as well. 

Assistant Manager’s Hill House:

Sited just around the corner from the manager’s house also above the road and overlooking the ranch with major big peak views, this smaller one-story home has a detached two-car garage. It was designed to be handicap accessible. An extensive patio dominates the front of the house. This is a more modern style home that features a kitchen, living room, dining room area and a hallway that services three-bedrooms with a three-way divided bathroom. There is also a half bath, recreation room, laundry room and office. 

Lodge:

This building is located next to the manager’s house. It includes a large commercial kitchen, a pantry, and a bathroom plus an expansive entertainment room that includes a pool table, a bar and plenty of space for tables, games or whatever one would choose. This is a lovely, bright entertainment space with lots of windows that yield great views of the Bridger mountains. 

Additional Home: 

There is a fifth modest two-bedroom one-bath ranch home that is situated on the south end of the ranch and accessed by way of a private driveway. It is used seasonally for family and hired help. This was the second choice location for the owner’s home and the site is spectacular. 

Rustic Cabin: 

Located on Frazier Creek on the south end of the ranch and tucked into the trees, this one-room cabin is charmingly decorated and ideal for overnights, picnics, and as a hunting cabin. 

Main Barn and Corrals:

This 100’ X 60’ foot steel building is truly multi-purpose. It offers stabling for the owners horses, a full tack room, a feed room, a heated vet complex and calving area, a one-bedroom apartment, and in the spring it is set up to tie into the corrals and is used for calving. The corrals are mostly steel portable panels or steel post and rail. They are set up to include a covered area with a hydraulic squeeze chute used for artificial insemination, embryo transplants and preg testing. 

Roping Arena Equine Paddocks:

In the same area as the barn and corrals is a full outdoor roping arena. The ranch is fully set up for horse activities and offers some of the most beautiful riding trails to be found anywhere, both on the ranch and on the adjacent national forest. There is a series of grassy paddocks – many with loafing sheds - that surround the owner’s home and the barn area so the owner is able to have his or her horses close at hand in appealing post and rail enclosures. 

Owner’s Shop:

This 30’ X 50’ steel building has a full concrete floor and has been utilized for wood working which is a hobby of the current owner. This structure could easily be converted to any number of other uses. It has two overhead doors, plenty of windows and is heated with a wood stove. 

Ranch Shop:

This 40’ X 60’ steel building has a full concrete floor, is heated and has a high overhead door ideal for working on ranch equipment. 

Water Resources

King of Hearts has good water rights and sits in an enviable position at the head of the creek. It has abundant water resources both for irrigation and for stock and wildlife. Multiple streams flow through the ranch year-round and there are springs, wells and reservoirs throughout the ranch. These rights are being seriously underutilized because the ranch has the potential to produce good hay crops and lots of grazing without irrigation. There is significant potential to increase production with full utilization of the existing water rights. There is currently no sprinkler irrigation on the ranch and this alone has the potential to significantly increase the crop production – particularly if all of the lands subject to irrigation were in fact irrigated. 

Mineral Rights

All the interest in minerals owned by seller will transfer to buyer upon sale of the ranch. The owners believe that their mineral ownership is quite limited.

Taxes

Based upon past years the real estate taxes are estimated at $13,753.


Learn about the recreational amenities

Fishery Resources

Flathead Creek is a nice “small stream” trout fishery and the ranch offers many opportunities for ponding. Flathead Creek has potential for restoration and improvements to the fishery, as the current owners focus has primarily been cattle and production. The ranch is ideally located near some of the West’s best fly fishing destinations such as 16 Mile Creek, the Smith River, and the Shields River. The Yellowstone River and its famous spring creeks are less than an hour away near Livingston as is the Gallatin River near Bozeman. 

Wildlife Resources

The Bridger Mountains offer high concentrations of elk with exceptional populations residing on the ranch, especially during the archery and early rifle season. The ranch itself has excellent habitat - such as food, cover, safety and water - to help hold good numbers of elk.  In recent years the antelope hunting has been excellent as well with trophy quality bucks being taken each year. A host of various other fauna call King of Hearts home, including moose, grouse, Hungarian partridge, mountain lion, black bear, mule deer, whitetail deer, raptors and other small game.  With strategic farming and designated sanctuaries, the hunting could be superb. It is rare to find such a populated wildlife corridor so close to the communities of Bozeman and Livingston with quality wildlife viewing and hunting.

Recreational Considerations

King of Hearts is one of the friendliest and most beautiful ranches in Montana for horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, 4-wheeling or just sitting on the porch reading a book and enjoying the extraordinary views. It is one of the few ranches that offers outstanding winter recreation from easy access to alpine skiing at nationally recognized Bridger Bowl just 15 minutes away, to terrific Nordic style skiing, snowshoeing, and great snowmobiling all right on the ranch.

Learn about the general operations

General Operations

The owners of King of Hearts Ranch have been blessed with a management team that over 25 years has been left to their own devices to make the ranch work financially. Part of their charge has been to keep the ranch’s improvements and physical plant in good repair and looking nice with evident pride of ownership. It goes without saying that looking after the land is of paramount importance as well. This management team’s strength is in the livestock operation and figuring out how to bring “value add” to this aspect of the operation. They claim the operation has always broken even at least and they have never had to ask the owners for any additional subsidies. This is unusual in this day and age for a mountain ranch that they estimate to run about 325 animal units on the deeded acreage based upon the current trend of running cows that can average 1,200 to 1,500 pounds.  

Since this is the higher altitude portion of their operation, they have opted to raise their hay more on lower leased land and concentrate on grazing the King of Hearts. They estimate hay production on the deeded lands would average around 700 tons per year but they are currently only putting up around 300 tons – opting to graze the balance of the meadows. The current program to add value to their cow herd is to use a percentage of their better cows as recipients of embryo transplants. The manager and his wife are particularly experienced in this area. In this way they can get a guaranteed premium for these calves. The additional leased lands used by the ranch are short-term private leases that involve personal relationships with the manager and assistant manager and are not assignable. 

This management team is interested in staying on and would be happy to discuss various management options with a new owner. We would highly recommend this course of action. 

We would be remiss in not mentioning the equine assets of the ranch. While it has been perhaps more of a hobby than a money-making proposition, the ranch is well set up to run horses and of course is a near perfect place to ride them and work them. The many post and rail paddocks with loafing sheds, the arena, and the available spaces within the big barn are all well suited for this type of enterprise. 

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